When Patti Smith spoke Thursday at the New Orleans Museum of Art about a collection of photographs that she recently donated, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was in the audience. On Saturday night, when she performed at Tipitina’s with her band, he and other members of R.E.M. joined her onstage for an impromptu jam.
Smith opened with the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and performed a cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” in a set that leaned heavily on her early albums. When she turned the microphone over to guitarist Lenny Kaye, he brought Peter Buck to the stage, introducing him simply as “the lead guitarist for the Seeds” for a cover of the garage classic “Pushin’ Too Hard.”
Later in the set, Buck returned and R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey sat down at the piano. Smith gestured for Michael Stipe to take the mike, and he led the band through “Wichita Lineman.” Smith handed him a lyric sheet, but he instead sang while reading the words from his iPhone. Sporting a porn star moustache and a jacket with “Time Is Money” stitched on the back, Stipe danced and sang backing vocals when Smith led the combined band through closer “People Have the Power.”
The song’s sentiment was a theme than resonanted throughout the show. Smith spent the day working to help restore a church, and she passed out postcards about the project to the audience. She dedicated “Grateful” to volunteers everywhere, “because we can’t rely on our fucking government.”
R.E.M. have been camped out in New Orleans working on a new album, the follow-up to 2008’s Accelerate. The band started on the LP last November at the Music Shed, recording demos and working with local musicians, including Shamarr Allen, Leroy Jones, and Bonerama’s Mark Mullins, Craig Klein and Greg Hicks.